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Discerning Your Spiritual Journey with Saint John of Avila

Discerning Your Spiritual Journey with Saint John of Avila, Doctor of the Church
by Denise Clare Oliver
Leominster, Herefordshire, UK: Gracewing Publishing, 2013
176 pages
Reviewed by Reverend Gustavo Castillo, STL

Discerning Your Spiritual Journey with Saint John of Avila, Doctor of the Church is the first book written in English about the spiritual master since he was declared a Roman Catholic Doctor of the Church in 2012. In this book Denise Clare Oliver presents the teachings of Saint John of Avila, called by Pope Benedict XVI a “pioneer in pointing the universal call to holiness,” for Christians who are trying to grow in their spiritual life. The author avails herself of translations of the saint’s sixteenth-century writings to present the perennial value of his insights.

Placing Saint John of Avila’s teachings along those of other classical spiritual figures, mainly Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Oliver shows how the new doctor offers tools for discernment to assist individuals in their search for union with God.

Oliver wonderfully weaves the master’s teachings from his letters, treatises, and his main work, Audi filia, to offer a thematic exposition that reveals Saint John of Avila’s insights and experiences in the spiritual life. The reader surely will benefit from the teachings and will relish quotes from the saint, such as “prayer is for the soul what sleep is for the body” (55), as well as his helpful images to describe spiritual realities: those who do not pray, he would say, “are swimming or fighting with only one hand and are walking with only one foot” (55).

A fine work overall, the only drawbacks in the book come from the biographical sources used, which lead to some minor inaccuracies—placing him in Avila at one point, for instance, though Avila was his family name (10)—and the scholarly style that may not appeal to some readers. Still Oliver offers a wonderful jewel for priests, religious brothers and sisters, and spiritual directors who want to know the tools of this Spanish spiritual master to guide others to sanctity and to growth in their pilgrimage of faith. Other serious Christians who are looking for solid nourishment for the soul will not be disappointed.

Reverend Gustavo Castillo, STL, is a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, California, USA. Ordained in 2001, he has served in different parishes as associate and as pastor. He has also served on a part-time basis as a spiritual director for seminarians and seminary candidates. In 2014, he received his License in Spiritual Theology from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome.

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